Through my observation of marriage licenses in England through the 1600s to the 1800s I have witnessed a tremendous variation in the penalty that would be required if a marriage was invalid. Some penalties were 100 pounds (William Ward to Elizabeth Kerry in Overton, Flintshire in 1765) and possibly less, some for as much as 500 pounds (John Youd's marriage to Elizabeth Reynolds in Doddleston, Cheshire in 1793).

What were the primary reasons for this variation in the penalty fee, excluding of course monetary inflation over time?

Were penalties at certain times of the year more expensive than others, or if the marriage needed to be particularly quick?


1 Answer 1


You are looking at the value of the marriage bond. This is not how much money was paid for the license. Rather, it was the penalty if the marriage allegation were false (consanguinity, pre-contract, etc.). It is my understanding that it was extremely rare for such a penalty to be paid.

According to Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales (FamilySearch):

In 1597 the recommended fee for a license was ten shillings, but Richard Grey, writing in 1730, says that a fee of five shillings was then normal. At the end of the 19th century the fees, including ten shillings' tax, varied from about £2 to £3.

This was still a large sum to many, so most marriages were by banns. Special licenses no doubt cost more but were comparatively rare.

  • Thanks for the answer, though I must slightly rephrase my question: how was the penalty fee determined?
    – Charlie
    Apr 4, 2020 at 22:27
  • @Charlie I thought that the value of the bond was set by ecclesiastical law but am struggling to find a citation. Most 18C bonds I have copies of are to the value of £200. It must have varied by the level of the court (and type of license), but the value of the bond probably tells you little about the bondsmen's ability to pay the sum. I am curious - what courts were the examples you gave?
    – Harry V.
    Apr 4, 2020 at 23:32

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